Having grown up with two brothers who loved playing basketball, sophomore Michaela O’Neil is no stranger to competition. From soccer and baseball to softball and volleyball, O’Neil has tried her hand at a wide range of sports. The fast-paced action of basketball, however, stuck out to her.
Basketball remained a constant throughout O’Neil’s high school and collegiate careers. After serving as the team captain of her high school team in her junior and senior years, she joined the Blue Jays in her first year at the University, where she currently plays as a forward on the women’s basketball team.
In an interview with The News-Letter, O’Neil outlined the differences between high school and collegiate varsity teams.
“Collegiate games are a lot faster, which was definitely an adjustment for me as a freshman,” she said. “There’s also a lot more time going into sets and plays, which makes conditioning or working on your skills more up to you, rather than doing it in practice.”
Between her freshman and sophomore years at Hopkins, O’Neil saw herself grow significantly as a basketball player.
“I wasn’t a starter last year,” she said. “I played a decent amount, but nothing close to this year.”
Last year, O’Neil played in 25 games, scoring a total of 129 points and making 116 rebounds while providing 20 assists overall. So far this season, O’Neil has scored the second-highest total of points on her team and is tied for the most three-pointers.
O’Neil is one of the many members on the women’s basketball team who have been hard at work training and competing in the Centennial Conference tournament. Their dedication has paid off thus far, with the team securing a 10-game winning streak.
Reflecting on this season’s strong performance to date, O’Neil discussed the importance of their team dynamic.
“We’ve really come together,” she said. “We were definitely a very young team going into it, and we just knew that we had a lot of potential. One of the things that makes us a strong team is how deep our bench is.”
O’Neil entered this season with a focus on scoring as a way to step up for the team. Over the summer she dedicated time to conditioning, whether that was going to the park to work on dribbling or playing random pickup games with her brother.
O’Neil explained some of the new strategies she adopted this season.
“One of the things I’ve started doing a lot more is driving to the hoop,” she said. “I realized that I can pretty much jump anyone and really attack my opponents — especially when they’re shorter than me — to force people to play the drive. Also, the point guards and other people have been setting me up too, which has been really awesome.”
Her strategies have proven successful. At a game on Jan. 12, O’Neil scored a career-high 19 points.
With an upcoming game against Gettysburg this week, O’Neil described the team’s mindset.
“At this point, people are just really fired up and excited to get into those competitive games,” she said. “Everyone is really feeling the momentum right now.”
According to O’Neil, the team’s close-knit bond has made her experience memorable.
“I know that I can go to my teammates for anything, which has been amazing because I wouldn’t say it felt that way in high school,“ she said. “After last year, it makes everyone more motivated to win the Centennial Conference, especially for the seniors who are graduating or our injured players who can’t play. We’re always playing for each other.”
O’Neil noted that the team had a rough transition after many of the older players graduated last year. However, she hopes that the team can continue building on their chemistry and improving at setting each other up.
Growing up, O’Neil admired basketball players like Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm and Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics.
“Being from Boston, Thomas was always one of my favorite players. I don’t play in the same position as him, but the way he’s shorter and had a lot of success was always really cool,” she said.
Looking to the future, O’Neil highlighted her personal goals for the rest of her basketball career, which include taking on more leadership roles.
“I want to help the younger players develop and look for their own shots in the same way that I’m starting to be able to do myself,” she said. “I think that I do have a lot of potential, and I really want to see that fulfilled before my career ends. Then, I can take all the skills I’ve gained and use them going forward with my career in medicine and life.”